NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame and Michigan kickoff the 41st edition of their rivalry in less than 48 hours. A lot of the talk surrounding the Irish this week has been the 39th installment two years ago when Notre Dame lost 35-31. That Wolverine win is part of a 15-game home winning streak heading into Saturday night's game.
"The pressure's on Michigan," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after Thursday's practice. "They're at home. They've gotta win at home. I think that for us, we're gonna go up there swinging. We're gonna have to play well. It's a very good football team. We know that. We can't go up there and turn the ball over like we did a couple years ago."
The Fighting Irish committed five turnovers - three fumbles and two interceptions - in the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium two years ago. Those five turnovers in the 2011 game were a third of the turnovers the Irish committed in all of 2012. Kelly clearly now has a different team with a different attitude than the one he took to Ann Arbor two years ago.
"We know the challenges ahead of us," said Kelly. "But we also know that if you're going to win at Michigan - and nobody's been able to do that now under (head coach) Brady Hoke at Michigan - you better go up there with an attitude to be aggressive and go play the game. You can't sit back and wait and hope. If you do you're not going to win."
While Michigan is good at home under Hoke, Notre Dame has gained a full head of steam on the road under Kelly. Since losing at Michigan in that game, the Irish have won seven of their last eight road games and ride a four-game road winning streak into the weekend.
"We've gotta go to Michigan and play to win," Kelly said. "We've gotta be the aggressors. We can't go up there and worry about the noise. It's going to be loud. You're not going to be able to hear. If you're worried about hearing something you're not going to hear it. You'd better be locked-in.
While many of the Irish names and faces have changed from two years ago, Tommy Rees is one of the constants. Rees threw three touchdown passes, but he also had a pair of interceptions and a red zone fumble. Kelly has a much different Tommy Rees this time around though than the one he had in 2011.
"I think the moment is not quite as large as it was two years ago," Kelly said of Rees' growth. "I think that probably two years ago he was operating on instinct a little bit and I think now he's operating a little bit more on just a clear understanding of everything. He's just a lot more comfortable."
"When I say instinct - he was reacting," Kelly continued. "I think you're going to see somebody that's so much more proactive in the game. He's going to see it before it happens."
Playing the Freshmen
Ten freshmen saw their collegiate debuts last week at home against Temple, but they will be in a much different atmosphere when they play in would could be the last Notre Dame - Michigan game at Michigan in at least the next decade. Kelly is not worried about the youngsters though.
"I think you go in and you play them," Kelly said when asked how he thought the freshmen will react this weekend. "You find out how in the flow of the game they measure up. For us, we've already decided that they're going to play."
"We've already talked to them about the atmosphere," he continued. "Look, we're going up there to win the game. If they're nervous and can't handle it then we've probably recruited the wrong guy."
Malik Zaire will be out of action for a second straight week. The freshman quarterback missed last week's game as well due to about with mono. Luke Massa will again be the emergency quarterback this week.
Kelly says DaVaris Daniels, who injured his groin in last week's win over Temple, is a full go for this weekend. Running back Will Mahone, who had a high ankle sprain during training camp and missed last week's game, will be in action as well.
The Kicking Game
Kelly said after the Temple game that his kickers would be re-evaluated this week. Kyle Brindza and Nick Tausch each missed field goals in the season-opener, while Brindza also handles punting and kickoff duties.
"We had a pretty good week," Kelly said when asked about the current status of the kicking duties. "Kyle continues to kick the ball well. We'll still have Nick and (backup punter) Alex (Wulfeck). If called upon they can come out and help us."
Kelly was still not completely clear though on exactly who would handle which duties on Saturday.
"We'll see what happens as we get to game time," he said. "I think I've made it pretty clear, we like Brindza, but you never know what might happen. There's a lot of kicking that goes along with what he's doing. We like what he's done, but I'm not going to paint myself into a corner. If I need to use those two guys they're ready to go if we need them."